Glued to the throat, a small patch could replace the vocal cords

Glued to the throat, a small patch could replace the vocal cords

A small sticker patch, simply placed on the throat, manages to produce certain words instead of the vocal cords, according to a study published Tuesday, an innovation which, however, is still far from being able to concretely resolve speech disorders.

This patch, a small square a few centimeters on each side, “detects certain muscle movements (which) are then converted into electrical signals and processed by an algorithm (…) capable of recognizing words and translating them into language“, detailed a press release from the journal Nature Communications where this study was published.

A device capable of “replacing” the vocal cords?

This device, which uses artificial intelligence, is based on the movements of the muscles of the larynx but not on the vocal cords. It is therefore likely to one day succeed in partially replacing them.

The main advantage would be to have a very simple patch to apply, without requiring surgery, in order to allow certain disabled patients to regain the use of language.

However, researchers warn that it will still be years before such a device can possibly help patients in real life. It has so far only been tested on eight people and they had no language problems.

Many limits currently

Above all, the patch is currently only capable of reproducing sentences which have already been recorded in its memory. In the study, these included phrases like “Merry Christmas” or “I love you.”

This constraint “limits the applications of our device”, admitted to AFP Ziyuan Che, researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and main author of the study. But this one, in which the system recognized what people meant in 95% of cases, is promising, assures the researcher.

He said more sophisticated algorithms could one day allow the patch to produce sentences “without the need to pre-record voice signals.”